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NFL’s unfair, unrealistic, unnecessary taunting penalties befuddle Bears

The Bears are devoting part of their week to making sure players abide by a rule that doesn’t need to exist in the first place.

Gipson drew a 15-yard penalty for taunting after the Bears got a stop on third-and-five against the Bengals in Week 2.
AP Photos

Amid everything the Bears are navigating as they change quarterbacks, reshuffle the defense and prepare for a road game against one of the NFL’s better teams, they’ve been devoting a portion of their week toward something ridiculous.

In a sport that asks players to break their bodies for every momentous yard, they can lose 15 of them just for clapping. The NFL’s new taunting policy demands that in the most vicious sport, players walk away from the play as though they’re in a library, and the Bears were flagged for violating it in each of their first two games.

Given the nature of football, it’s unfair and unrealistic.

It’s also unnecessary.

“If you play in-between the whistles — hey, he made a good play,” linebacker Roquan Smith said when asked if he thinks taunting is a problem. “I’m going to come back and get him if he does make a good play on me.”

And has an opponent’s taunt ever hurt your feelings?

“Aw, hell no!” Smith snapped.

That seems like a silly question. But if players aren’t complaining about bruised egos, here’s what should be asked: Whom is this rule for?

It’s clearly not for the players, and NFLPA president J.C. Tretter pointed out this week that the league’s competition committee, which implements rules like this, consists of 10 members chosen by commissioner Roger Goodell and one rep from the union.

The rule likely is meant to appease prudish fans who view the game as out of control and wild when players get into it. But this supposed misbehavior is negligible.

There were eight taunting penalties in the first two weeks, and three occurred in Bears games:

• Linebacker Alec Ogletree got one in the opener for standing over Rams right guard Austin Corbett after they tangled at the end of a play. That moved the Rams from midfield into scoring range.

• The refs flagged safety Tashaun Gipson for clapping at wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase after a stop on third-and-five, handing the Bengals a new set of downs.

• Bengals safety Vonn Bell picked one up minutes later for jawing at quarterback Andy Dalton, bailing the Bears out of what would’ve been third-and-12 backed up against their own end zone. Dalton appeared to lobby for the flag, presumably because they’d just penalized Gipson.

Several Bears said they aren’t clear on what meets the threshold for a penalty, don’t agree with the spirit of the policy and don’t think 15 yards is an appropriate punishment. The overly heavy-handed discipline will tamp down some of the emotion and excitement of the game, and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin believes that’s ultimately bad for the league.

“The gestures, clapping in the face and doing all of that — my skin’s too thick for that,” Goodwin said. “That doesn’t really get me going. I’m kind of confused by the rules, but it is the league’s rule.”

That last part means players have to take it seriously regardless of whether they agree with the league. If it can cost them a possession — or even a game — they must abide by it. That’s the point coach Matt Nagy, who agrees wholeheartedly with the intention of the rule, has been stressing.

“Guys are competitive and they’re emotional . . . but we’re also teaching everybody to move on to the next play,” Nagy said. “When that’s the rules, I listen to them and I believe in them.

“If you think it’s gray at all, you can’t do it — because that can be critical. I understand why the league’s doing it and I support it and I’m going to do everything I can to emphasize it.”

That’s a lot of effort over a rule that never should’ve been implemented.